popular culture

Who Wore it Better? Kimye Edition

Kanye West and Kim Kardashian pose for a red carpet photo at Monday's Met Gala in NYC.

Image Credit: Entertainmentwise

Celebrity fashion is a no-holds-barred spectators’ sport, and, like the fashion industry itself, it features and targets women as its primary audience.  Free Thought blogger Greta Christina described the language of fashion succinctly in her recent post “Fashion is a Feminist Issue, arguing that if we interpret fashion as a “language of sorts…an art form, even,” we can begin to view fashion as “one of the very few forms of expression in which women have more freedom than men.”  But, she continues, “it’s [no] accident that it’s typically seen as shallow, trivial, and vain.  It is the height of irony that women are valued for our looks, encouraged to make ourselves beautiful and ornamental… and are then derided as shallow and vain for doing so.  Like it or not, fashion and style are primarily a women’s art form. And I think it gets treated as trivial because women get treated as trivial.”

This post seeks to read the rhetoric of celebrity fashion coverage in light of remarks like those of Greta Christina.  How can we read celebrity fashion as an arena that in principle grants women more freedom than men, but in practice consistently limits the freedom of both men and women to express themselves?  How do the voyeuristic, hypercritical impulses of celebrity media intersect and inform the world of fashion, particularly women’s fashion?  I take as my case study here the much-photographed couple Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, sometimes known as a couple by their nickname “Kimye.”  

Girl Power: Taylor Swift beyond The Waves

Taylor swift in an edge black Tom Ford jacket and black dress.

Image Credit: Harper’s Bazaar 


This blog post started as a conversation in the break room here at the DWRL.  After a discussion of the subversive, alternative female artists of the 90s—not only in band formulation like Riot Grrl or Bikini Kill but especially the singer/songwriters who dominated top 40 radio: Alanis Morissette, Melissa Etheridge, Fiona Apple—someone mused, “Where have all the angry girls gone?”

I can’t say I like the answer.  The angry girls have been billed as terrorists (MIA) or criminals (Fiona Apple).  Some girls perform anger in a way that only weakly resonates with the general public (Miley Cyrus).  But the angry girl has also been rebranded. The inevitable subsumption of alternative culture by the mainstream has cloaked our angry girl in airy dresses with flowing tresses and the voice of an angel to deliver the proverbial “fuck you.”  I am, of course, referring to the girl who’s on the cover of every magazine this week as she promotes her new album Red.  So hey girl hey, Taylor Swift—this week’s post goes out to you as I explore the paradoxical relationship between the underground and the mainstream, which emerge and subsume and emerge again in a cycle as endless as the couple on the verge of reconciliation (really! I think so!) in “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”

Gifs, gags, and digital nostalgia--the long wait for Breaking Bad season 5.2

breaking bad art project

Image Credit: Breaking Gifs

I simply cannot resist a good topical tumblr. Of course, the orienting rhetorical principle of tumblrs like textsfromhillary (inspired by a single Reuters photo of the Secretary of State checking her smartphone on a C-17) or geraldoinahoodie (created in response to Geraldo Rivera's comments on the Trayvon Martin case) is undoubtedly kairos, and, as we might expect, these sites are often abandoned as quickly as they are generated, leaving nothing but a flurry of self-referential entries that lose their meaning the further they become removed from their rhetorical moment. As the creators of textsfromhillary assert in their final post, "As far as memes go – it has gone as far as it can go. Is it really possible to top a submission from the Secretary herself?"

I Turn My Camera On, Then My Photoshop

Picture of celebrity Shia LaBeouf posed next to an unknown black-haired white man.  The two are posed in the middle of a house; LaBeouf is on the left and the other man on the right of the shot.

Image Credit: Everett Hiller

H/T:  Crushable

While I’ve done some recent fangirling over Ryan Gosling and Benjamin Franklin, I would have never imagined I could be in a photograph with them.  At least, not until I saw Everett Hiller’s holiday party photographs, into which he Photoshopped various celebrities.

Panem et Circenses: The Hunger Games and Kony2012

Early-modern Bear Baiting

Image Credit: BookDrum.com

I suspect I was one of very few people thinking of the First Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Cooper, as I watched The Hunger Games with my family last weekend. In particular, I was recalling how Shaftesbury lamented in 1711 that the English theater had come to resemble the “popular circus or bear-garden.”

It is no wonder we hear such applause resounded on the victories of Almanzor, when the same parties had possibly no later than the day before bestowed their applause as freely on the victorious butcher, the hero of another stage, where amid various frays, bestial and human blood, promiscuous wounds and slaughter, [both sexes] are… pleased spectators, and sometimes not spectators only, but actors in the gladiatorian parts.[1]

Abraham Lincoln is Watching Over You: The Strange World of Victorian Spirit Photography

William Mumler, Portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln with Abraham and Thaddeus, 1872

For my first viz. post ever, I thought I’d take a look at the Victorian phenomenon of spirit photography.  Truly timely, right?  But in the wake of Errol Morris’s new book on photography, Believing is Seeing, which is concerned with sussing out the relationship between objective truth and the photograph, thinking about this mid-Victorian malarkey suddenly seems more culturally relevant to me than it did, say, a week ago.  After all, the controversy over spirit photographs represents the first serious sustained debate about photography’s truth-telling powers.   But more importantly, spirit photography remains, if you’ll pardon the obvious pun, visually haunting: at its most basic rhetorical level, its wish-fulfilling nature provides access to powerful cultural fantasies.   Read more after the break.

Communal Remembering - The Johnny Cash Project

Screen shot of the Johnny Cash Project video opening

Screen Shot of the video opening in The Johnny Cash Project

Cyber memorials are interesting beasts.  A new, more publicly available way to mourn, they are often sites of controversy - raising questions about representation, curation and the appropriation of tragedy.  But what happens when a multimedia memorial invites visitors to actively participate in the creation and curation of the content? A hyper-mediated explosion of awesome (among other things).

Meat is Couture? - Lady Gaga's Meaty Message

Lady Gaga's VMA meat dress

Image Credit: Lady Gaga at the VMAs, Designer Franc Fernandez

I realize that I may be a bit behind the times to be addressing (ha!) Lady Gaga's fashion stunt of last fall, but meat's been on my mind this week as I'm about to embark on 30 days of eating vegetarian - largely as a result of the text we're teaching in our introductory rhetoric classes here at UT: Colin Beavan's No Impact Man. But that's another story.  Gaga's appearance at the Mtv Video Music Awards sparked controversy that dissipated rather quickly, and though this may have been due to the singer's own inability to adequately (or logically) explain the reasons behind her wardrobe choice, the images left behind offer a really interesting opportunity for varying and disparate interpretations.  

The Inner Life of Toys - The Art of Jason Freeny


Anatomical bi-section of Mickey Mouse figure

Image Credit: Jason Freeny Moist Productions

Elieen's viz. post from a few weeks ago on Justine Cooper's photo-documentation of the American Museum of Natural History in New York has been bouncing around in my head ever since.  It (re)kindled a long-standing interest I've had in both natural history museums and slightly morbid kinds of art.  In both digital images and sculpture, artist Jason Freeny invests familiar children's toys with anatomical interiors, suggesting an inner life/death that both unsettles and intrigues.

Accessorizing Surveillance - Barbie Video Girl

Video Barbie advertising from website

Image Credit: screen shot from barbie.com

H/T: Noel

From coloring books to glitter to unicorns, my viz. posts seem to be revolving around adult repurposing of the trappings of youth.  Naturally, we'll have to throw Barbie into the mix.  While she has certainly seen her share of fashion updates over her 50-year reign as fantasy icon extraordinaire, this creepy 21st-century update to Barbie's accessory collection reverses the gaze and turns Barbie’s body into a tool for surveillance.

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